Who is this King?
Is the bible story summarized in our last post a real historical event or just a fable?
The quest for historical evidence of that story begins right at the very beginning of verse 1 in chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel. There a person named “King Belshazzar” was mentioned.
Who is this “King Belshazzar”? Was there really a king with this name?
For a long time, the answer to the above question was: No, there was no king Belshazzar in the real world. That had been considered as a clear example of historical error in the Bible. Ancient historians, including the well-known Herodotus of the 5th century B.C., never mentioned Belshazzar as a ruler in Babylon. Herodotus identified Nabonidus as the king when Babylon fell to Cyrus of the Persian Empire.
However, in 1882, archeologists discovered the ancient texts of the Babylonians called the Babylonian Chronicle. There archeologists learnt that Nabonidus was actually an absent king who abandoned the city of Babylon and left his son, Belshazzar, to rule in his place as crown prince. There are also texts discovered that described the elevation of Belshazzar to the functional role of king during the long absence of his father.
It is evident that Belshazzar’s role of coregent with his father has been forgotten by the time of Herodotus. But the biblical description in chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel not only identified Belshazzar as the king in Babylon, it also clearly implies his role as coregent when it said that Belshazzar could only offer Daniel the position as the “third ruler in the kingdom” at verse 7. Why third? Because Belshazzar’s father Nabonidus is the highest in the kingdom. Belshazzar himself is the second. The highest position Belshazzar could offer to anyone could only be the third in the kingdom.
Is it fair to conclude that the description of the event we summarized in our last post in chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel as historical? I think to say the least, we can agree that the description of that particular event cannot be entirely fictional.
But how could it happen that King Belshazzar held a great party, made Daniel the third highest position in his kingdom, and all of a sudden his kingdom was gone in the same night?